A certified medical assistant or doctor will likely encourage patients to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, but what if healthy foods aren’t always readily available? While there are varying reports on the presence of childhood obesity, the general consensus is that children and adolescents being overweight still presents one of the most important contemporary challenges for the overall health of the United States. Though much attention has been thrust upon school lunches and healthy food initiatives, helping kids of all ages form regular nutritional eating habits is imperative to both their individual long-term health and the health of our nation. Eating well is a cornerstone of preventing obesity and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Health care professionals hold a pivotal role in contributing to this ideology by serving as liaisons and teachers of healthy eating methods.
Facts on childhood obesity
Over the past 30 years, obesity in children has doubled and has tripled in adolescents,1 generally due to a poor combination of nutrition and physical activity. In the future this will become a long-term issue for health professionals, as childhood obesity increases risks of “type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and the metabolic syndrome.”2 Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to be overweight adults, potentially leading to chronic medical conditions such as inflammation and cardiovascular abnormalities.3 A study conducted by the University of Missouri even links childhood obesity to poor academic performance.4 For students, it is important to make healthy eating habits a routine because it benefits their overall health, contributes to a stronger performance in school and helps prevent absenteeism.5
Preventing childhood obesity
Childhood obesity is unequivocally correlated with a lack of exercise, poor diet and an excess of time in front of televisions and computers. Yet, attempting to change these habits can prove challenging for anyone, especially children. Helping to prevent childhood obesity requires community involvement, specifically focus on eating healthy and providing healthy food options daily. Campaigns to include fruit and salad bars in school cafeterias have recently gained momentum and give children and adolescents access to fruits, vegetables and other healthy food options throughout the school day.6
Stanford Hospital & Clinics also recommends keeping a wide array of fruit and vegetable options stocked at home, reducing television or computer time in exchange for physical activity, substituting sugary drinks with water, and making healthy eating a family value that is modeled by parents.7 Health care professionals can help nurture and encourage these habits while simultaneously keeping an eye out for warning signs associated with obesity. Preventing childhood and adolescent obesity requires a team consisting of dedicated physicians, teachers and parents.
Methods for encouraging healthy eating
Healthy eating has to be a continual focus for it to become a habit. A study published in Preventive Medicine found that providing students with an availability of fruits and vegetables didn’t necessarily make a difference in students selecting or consuming those foods.8 While providing these options is essential, exposing children to better alternatives to soda or potato chips, educating children on why they are healthier and explaining the dangers of obesity will help enforce good eating habits. Work with picky eaters to find new alternatives to traditional junk food, manage portions, and educate students about food labeling and caloric intake.
Furthermore, help steer kids away from highly advertised unhealthy foods. Children and adolescents are constantly exposed to unhealthy food options via television or computer advertisements, as well as enticed by school vending machines. Excessive time watching television has been linked with obesity, and hypothesized reasons for this correlation include exposure to advertisements targeted at young audiences that endorse unhealthy food and decreased amounts of physical activity.9 Therefore, maintaining a healthy eating regimen requires multiple opportunities each day for consuming healthy foods, supplied both at school and at home. Health care professionals can also help by providing information on healthy eating to parents and teachers.
Obesity in adults
One of the major concerns of such prevalent childhood obesity is that health issues associated with this chronic disease will become a lifelong onus. Obesity is a condition present in over 60 percent of adults.10 Research suggests that obesity onset during adolescence is more likely to lead to adult obesity.12 Preventing obesity in adults mirrors the methods for preventing obesity in children. Like children, adults need to exercise portion management, frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables, track their weight and exercise several days per week. This is another reason adults role-modeling healthy eating habits can assist children and adolescents in staying healthy.
Medical and surgical options are an extreme solution for issues that are symptomatic or result from being overweight, but are common due to cardiovascular disease associated with obesity. However, medical assistance should be a last resort, as obesity can be prevented through diligent focus on a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Health care professionals can help instill positive habits in their patients from a young age that matriculate all the way to adulthood.
1“How to Prevent Obesity” Stanford Hospitals & Clinics http://stanfordhospital.org/clinicsmedServices/COE/surgicalServices/generalSurgery/bariatricsurgery/obesity/preventing.html
2“Overweight in Children and Adolescents: Pathophysiology, Consequences, Prevention, and Treatment” Stephen R. Daniels, MD, PhD; Donna K. Arnett, PhD; Robert H. Eckel, MD ;Samuel S. Gidding, MD; Laura L. Hayman, PhD, RN; Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, RD; Thomas N. Robinson, MD, MPH; Barbara J. Scott, RD, MPH; Sachiko St. Jeor, PhD; Christine L. Williams, MD, MPH. Circulation. February, 2005. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/111/15/1999.full
3“Overweight in Children and Adolescents: Pathophysiology, Consequences, Prevention, and Treatment” Stephen R. Daniels, MD, PhD; Donna K. Arnett, PhD; Robert H. Eckel, MD ;Samuel S. Gidding, MD; Laura L. Hayman, PhD, RN; Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, RD; Thomas N. Robinson, MD, MPH; Barbara J. Scott, RD, MPH; Sachiko St. Jeor, PhD; Christine L. Williams, MD, MPH. Circulation. February, 2005. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/111/15/1999.full
4 Sara Gable, Jennifer L. Krull, Yiting Chang. Boys’ and Girls’ Weight Status and Math Performance From Kindergarten Entry Through Fifth Grade: A Mediated Analysis. Child Development, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01803.x
5 Geier, A. Obesity, August 2007; vol 15. News release, Temple University
6 “Salad Bars Increase Students’ Access to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” Press release. May 27th, 2014. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/salad-bars-increase-students-access-to-fresh-fruits-and-vegetables-260797471.html
7“How to Prevent Obesity” Stanford Hospitals & Clinics http://stanfordhospital.org/clinicsmedServices/COE/surgicalServices/generalSurgery/bariatricsurgery/obesity/preventing.html
8“Student receptivity to new school meal offerings: Assessing fruit and vegetable waste among middle school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District” Lauren N. Gasea, William J. McCarthyb, Brenda Roblesa, Tony Kuoa, c. Preventive Medicine. April 16th, 2014 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743514001443
9 “Overweight in Children and Adolescents: Pathophysiology, Consequences, Prevention, and Treatment” Stephen R. Daniels, MD, PhD; Donna K. Arnett, PhD; Robert H. Eckel, MD ;Samuel S. Gidding, MD; Laura L. Hayman, PhD, RN; Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, RD; Thomas N. Robinson, MD, MPH; Barbara J. Scott, RD, MPH; Sachiko St. Jeor, PhD; Christine L. Williams, MD, MPH. Circulation. February, 2005. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/111/15/1999.full
10“How to Prevent Obesity” Stanford Hospitals & Clinics http://stanfordhospital.org/clinicsmedServices/COE/surgicalServices/generalSurgery/bariatricsurgery/obesity/preventing.html